Teaching for Wholeness: Learnings from a Workshop with Laura Rendón

social-emotional learning

Laura Rendón, co-director for the Center of Research and Policy in Education at the University of Texas in San Antonio, has been at the cutting-edge of innovative pedagogic practices in higher education for the past several decades. A native of Laredo, Texas, Rendón’s mission is to spread her framework — called Sentipensante — that emphasizes intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual student development in addition to social activism.

Earlier this month, Rendón facilitated a symposium at Tufts University — organized by the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) — that focused on “teaching and learning for wholeness, inclusivity, and social change.” Here are my top learnings from the workshop:

  • Creating a new imaginary about working with students means paying more attention to our inner selves. There is a higher calling related to being an educator; it is more than just stepping into the classroom.
  • We need to change our vision of teaching and learning by increasing authenticity and reducing assumptions. Say what you mean, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, always do your best, be skeptical, and listen with your heart.
  • Moving away from a singular perspective to one that is more intersectional and brings diverse ways of thinking about knowledge is key. We must move beyond thinking there is just one way of knowing in order to have a more expansive view of pedagogy. We need to “change the agreement that Western ways of knowing should be privileged above all other forms of knowledge.”
  • The dominance of faculty and administrators in higher education who subscribe to monocultural paradigms leads to unspoken agreements that privilege cerebral abilities (such as verbal, scientific, and mathematic ability) over inner knowing (wisdom, wonder, intuition, and emotion). Linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences are the focus of standardized testing and college achievement, yet there are more than one or two intelligences.
  • Educators allow students very little time for personal contemplative practice. Replenishment and rest are often seen as “touchy feely.” But we need to change the agreement that work is the only thing that matters.
  • To change this framework, we need to embrace that there are diverse ways of knowing in the classroom. Faculty should embrace diverse ways of knowing. Intuition, inner knowing and personal experience are just as important as academics. Developing a deep sense of purpose in life, becoming social activists, and becoming compassionate humanitarians is as important as honing problem solving and critical thinking skills. “It’s not just about the mind.”
  • Similarly, the knowledge contributed by women, people of color, Indigenous and non-Western scholars should be given as much credence as Western ways of knowledge.
  • If you do not invest in self-care, it will catch up with you (and the people you interact with).
  • In response to the question of, “In 20 years, what would you like for your students to remember,” one teacher responded with:

“What I want student to have retained from my English courses has very little to do with any specific poem, story, or play we read in class, or any theory we debate. It has much more to do with some kind of fundamental change I hope to effect in how they think, communicate, or interact in the world… we hope to have transformed our students in some fundamental way — to help enrich their intellectual lives, to make them into better people, to give them the skills and knowledge they would need to make the world a better place.”

  • Rendón’s playbook for moving towards a “more spacious view of education” includes three core considerations: (1) design a framework that connects the field of contemplative education with issues of justice and equity in our society; (2) foster an education that allows students to deeply and skillfully engage with equity and justice issues, and; (3) connect the contemplative education movement to include culturally-diverse learners in low-income communities and schools.
  • Students want to find deeper meaning in what they learn; students want to develop a sense of purpose; students want to connect with others and develop new, lasting relationships.
  • Educators tend to forget to acknowledge that culturally-diverse learners have important strengths that can facilitate their engagement in contemplative education. These skills include giving back, curiosity, resiliency, spirituality, and pluriversality.
  • Celebrate the marriage of heart and mind.

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